As Switzerland’s glaciers melt, voters approve new climate law to cut planet-heating pollution

By Laura Paddison, CNN

CNN  —  Swiss voters have approved a new law to cut the use of fossil fuels and significantly reduce levels of planet-heating pollution, as the country faces alarming levels of glacier melt.

The law, which was approved by just over 59% of voters during a referendum held on Sunday, requires that the country reach net zero – where it would remove from the atmosphere at least as much planet-warming pollution as it emits – by 2050.

Switzerland currently imports around three-quarters of its energy, with all of its oil and gas coming from abroad.

“These fossil fuels will not be available indefinitely and they place a heavy burden on the climate,” a statement on the Swiss government website said Sunday. The government said it wants to reduce the use of oil and gas while increasing energy produced within Switzerland.

The new bill includes measures to lower energy consumption and support companies to use more climate-friendly technology.

Switzerland intends to invest 2 billion francs ($2.24 billion) into helping people to replace home heating systems run on fossil fuels with those run on renewables, and 1.2 billion francs ($1.34 billion) for businesses to green their technology, André Simonazzi, a Swiss government spokesperson, posted on Twitter.

Switzerland, a country of 8.7 million people, has a system of direct democracy, which allows citizens to trigger a nationwide referendum on proposals that gain more than 100,000 signatures.

A climate law was first introduced back in 2021, including measures to increase taxes on activities that produce high levels of planet-heating pollution, such as flying and driving gas-powered cars. But it was rejected by voters.

This current climate bill was proposed as a response to the Glacier Initiative, set up by the Swiss Association for Climate Protection, which pushed for an end to fossil fuels in order to save the country’s glaciers.

“This law now brings our country on the path to net-zero emissions by 2050 even though there’s still a long way to go until these changes are fully implemented,” said Matthias Huss, a glaciologist at ETH Zurich and who was a member of the Glacier Initiative’s scientific advisory board

The record run of recent climate extremes in Switzerland, and worldwide, “seems to have convinced many citizens that climate change is no longer something looming on the horizon but it’s already here, and everybody is touched by it,” Huss told CNN.

Switzerland has been increasingly feeling the impacts of the climate crisis. The country lost 6% of its glacier volume between 2021 and 2022, according to a recent World Meteorological Organization analysis.

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